The 19th ranked Michigan Wolverines have ridden Heisman candidate Denard Robinson all the way to a 4-0 start and a march back to respectability. But now that Big Ten play is set to begin this Saturday, Michigan is going to face a whole new set of challenges that they weren’t going to get from Bowling Green and UMass, and it starts in Bloomington, Indiana against the Hoosiers.
I know what you are probably thinking – really, Indiana? It is true that Indiana typically isn’t good at football, and that in the last 15 years they have been to exactly one bowl game. It is also true that the three teams Indiana has beaten so far this year – Towson, Western Kentucky, and Akron – have combined for one win. It is also true that Indiana doesn’t have much of a homefield advantage, and there will probably be a fair amount of Wolverine fans in attendance. All of that doesn’t account for the fact that Indiana’s biggest strength – the passing attack – is capable of shredding the Wolverines defense into pieces.
Last season at the Big House, Indiana gave then #23 Michigan all it could handle in a 36-33 loss, a game that would also be Michigan’s only Big Ten win. It had a controversial ending when Ben Chappell threw a disputed interception at the end of the game that prompted IU coach Bill Lynch to throw his gum. Indiana outgained Michigan 467-372 in that game, but had to settle for 4 FGs in the redzone. Chappell threw for 270 yards in that game, 104 of which went to standout WR Tandon Doss (remember the name), and then freshman RB Darius Willis had a breakout game, running for 152 yards on just 16 carries. Granted, Denard Robinson didn’t play in that game last year, but Michigan’s defense is no better this year and Indiana has already proven that it can compete with the Wolverines. Now that the game shifts back to Bloomington, Indiana’s offense will be ready to explode.
QB Ben Chappell is one of the most underrated passers in the Big Ten, and he has to be licking his chops in anticipation of facing Michigan’s porous pass defense. Notre Dame gained 535 total yards against Michigan, and UMass gained 439. There are yards to be gained and points to be scored against this defense, and Indiana has the weapons to make it happen. Last season, Ben Chappell 2941 yards while completing 62.6% of his passes. Turnovers have been a problem for him in the past, but so far this year he has thrown 9 TDs and 0 picks. Chappell has a trio of receivers to throw the ball to that are capable of getting open and making plays – the aforementioned Tandon Doss, 6-5 Demarlo Belcher, and Terrence Turner. Michigan will have fits trying to keep all those guys in check. And while Darius Willis has struggled to get it going so far this season, he broke out against Michigan last year and is capable of having a big game again. Indiana doesn’t lack for offensive talent, and will not have any trouble putting up at least 30 points on Saturday.
But just like against Notre Dame, Michigan will lean heavily on Robinson and ask him to carry the load offensively. Indiana does have problems defensively, and Robinson could put up huge numbers. But Indiana will load up on Robinson, and if they can slow him down even a little bit, the onus will fall on Michigan’s running game to pick up the slack. Michigan’s running game outside of Robinson hasn’t be reliable, so IU will need to force Robinson to give up the ball and let other people make plays. That still might not be enough for IU, as their defense has been poor every year under Bill Lynch, but whenever the ball is taken out of Robinson’s hands you are doing yourself a favor. Nonetheless, expect a shootout. Indiana’s best defense will be a ball controlling offense that keeps Robinson off the field.
Michigan has a lot of confidence right now, but Big Ten play is where it started to unravel last season for them, and it could happen again this year. Indiana is more experienced and prolific on offense than any other team Michigan has faced so far this year, and it will cause a lot of problems for them. Moreover, Indiana knows they can play with this team, and they think they were robbed of a victory last year. They will not be intimidated by the Wolverines and will enter that game very confident. In what will almost assuredly be a shootout, I believe Indiana can come out on top as long as they don’t turn the ball over and prevent Robinson from having a Hesiman-like performance. Either way, Michigan will leave Bloomington exposed as a team not ready to compete with the best in the Big Ten, thus increasing the temperature of Rich Rodriguez’s hot seat.
This post originally appeared on LandLoyalty.com